It was a beautiful day and we were off to Filoli. A lot of you may not know where, or even what, is Filoli, so I will explain. The Filoli estate is situated in Woodside on 654 acres just south of Crystal Springs. It was built between 1915 and 1917 by Mr. and Mrs. William Bourn who made their fortune from the Empire Gold Mine in Grass Valley. William Bourn named the estate Filoli. For years nobody knew the origin of the name until a close of associate of his realized it was taken from a credo often quoted by William Bourn – “Fight for a just cause; Love your fellow man; Live a good life”. They lived there from 1917 to 1936. Mr and Mrs William Roth bought the estate in 1937. William Roth died in 1963 and in 1975 Mrs Roth donated the whole estate to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The house has 43 rooms and the formal garen consists of a number spaces which are joined but completely different.
(Click on the photos for larger versions)
As it was a Friday and Filoli does not open until 10:00 am, we didn’t leave until after 9:00 am, hoping the traffic would be light. The traffic on 280 was OK but heavier than at 6:00 am on a weekend morning. Approaching the turn off at Edgewood Road and Crystal Springs we spied a finger of fog clinging to the top of the Coastal Range. Canada Road had a few cyclists on it but much less than you would find on a normal Saturday.
The reason we have come to Filoli is because I spotted a half price deal on the Daily Deal offered by the San Jose Mercury News. Armed with the printed ticket I was surprised that neither the guy at the entry kiosk or the two ladies on the admission desk had seen one before but the latter knew about it. Tom and I were each given a sticker which allowed us admission to both house and garden. We were also told of the guided tour starting at 10:00 which is included in the admission price. It sounded interesting but not for us as I like to wander around and discover places on my own and Tom likes to stop frequently to take photographs. Outside we had seen a lot of schoolchildren gathering but they were off on a nature walk which is docent led. These nature walks are available on a Saturday for everybody.
We watched a short video about Filoli before setting off on our own; Tom with his camera and tripod and me with a handy guide book and map which were handed to me when we received our stickers and my trusty IPad. As most of the guided tours go into the house first, we headed for the garden shop and the gardens themselves.
Stepping through a doorway, the first view of the gardens amazed me. In front of me the sunken garden, with its rectangular pond and formally laid out flower beds, took my breath away. I left Tom taking photos and walked through the sunken garden to the swimming pool. Everything looked immaculate from the water in the pool to the trees lining the walkways and the brick paths. At the far end a docent, Ed Carlson, greeted me and for a few minutes we chatted about England and Filoli. He was sitting in the shade of the pavilion and I could tell that he really enjoyed his volunteer job.
From there I meandered across the old tennis court – now a concert area I’m guessing – and through the woodland garden. As I walked from section to section it was like going from one room to another, each area being completely different. Each was a new experience. I walked through an archway, past the bereft daffodil meadow with its bare beds, and found myself in the rose garden. Here I sat for a while on a bench, enjoyed the comparative peace and quiet and spoke to some hens which wandered past. It was also here that Tom and I crossed paths for a short while.
My period of contemplation was over and I walked through another archway. For some reason I could not work out where I was. As I studied the map, a docent spotted me and asked if she could help. She pointed out on my map where we were and soon I was on the right path. The High Place was my next destination and to get there I needed to walk through the rose garden. In the distance I saw Tom and we exchanged greetings as me passed on parallel paths. On my way I walked through an interesting knot garden and the impressive cutting garden. Fragrant sweet peas and an assortment of colorful blooms were at their peak, others flowers were newly planted and a few beds had been prepared for a future planting. The High Place was not really that high but it was windy. A convenient bench with a semicircle of stone pillars behind commanded a wonderful view along a yew tree walk towards Crystal Springs, though I couldn’t see any sign of the lake.
Time to make my way to the house via the fruit garden and along the Upper Terrace. Here I spotted the glint of blue on a bird which flew across my path. Was it a Western Bluebeard? Taking a small detour I found a short wall to sit on while I waited and watched. Nearby I saw a nesting box on a short post and, sure enough, before too long both parents flew backwards and forwards to the nesting box to feed their young. I was enchanted to discover they were Western Bluebirds. I lost track of the time I sat there and studied them but eventually guessed it was time to go and find Tom.
I discovered him sitting of a bench in a shady little courtyard. We made our way to the front entrance of the house and entered through the main door. Not only did we have a map of the house with a description of the rooms but the self guided tour was well signed inside and each room displayed a board which fully described the room. The guide book informed us that ‘The goal of furnishing the House has been to furnish it as it might have been when the House was occupied.’ but the overwhelming impression to us lesser mortals would describe it as over furnished and far more opulent than what we would call a family home.
As we walked through the different rooms – reception, dining, drawing, trophy, flower rooms, and the kitchen, butler’s pantry, library, study and ballroom, we noticed interesting things. In the kitchen there was a servants’ call board and a dumbwaiter whilst in the trophy room there as a huge book containing beautiful paintings of plants grown at Highgrove; which is the home of Prince Charles. It was huge and encased in a glass cabinet. Only one page could be seen which was a pity because I would have loved to turn the pages. When we were in the library, the docent pointed out an anomaly in the wood block floor. He told us to stand in one spot and observe the light and dark shades of the wood. Then he directed us to stand where we could see the same section from the opposite direction. What appeared dark before was light and vice versa. It was obviously due to the grain of the wood but fascinating nevertheless.
Only the downstairs is open to view. Apparently the upstairs is not furnished and, because there is no fire exit, it does not conform to code. As it was way past our lunchtime, it was time to head home. It had been an interesting visit but, for me at any rate, the gardens were more impressive than the house.
June 27 2011 12:50 pm | Special Places